Sanofi, after R&D setback, lends a hand to vaccine rival Pfizer for coronavirus shot production

Sanofi Pasteur HQ
Sanofi is teaming up with Pfizer and BioNTech to help produce mRNA coronavirus vaccines. (Sanofi/Vincent Moncorgé)

Following its midstage coronavirus R&D setback, vaccine giant Sanofi is still looking for ways to help in the world’s effort to beat back the pandemic. It’s teaming up with leading vaccine players Pfizer and BioNTech to produce 100 million doses of the rival vaccine—even as Sanofi works to push its own programs through clinical testing.

After Sanofi's weak trial showing in December forced the company to delay its own vaccine development, the French drugmaker approached Pfizer and BioNTech about helping with mRNA shot production, CEO Paul Hudson said in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper.

A Sanofi spokesman confirmed the manufacturing partnership, saying Sanofi will provide BioNTech “access to our established infrastructure and expertise to produce over 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Europe in 2021.” The first batches will be delivered from Sanofi’s site in Frankfurt, Germany, by August, he said.

“While our utmost priority remains to advance our two COVID-19 vaccine programs, we recognize that some companies are facing challenges with their production,” he said. “Therefore, where we have the right manufacturing capabilities, without compromising other essential medicines and vaccines, and where we believe we can make a difference, we are stepping forward to do more for the fight against COVID and show solidarity across the industry.”

The company sees the partnership as “feasible” from a “technological and from a timing perspective,” he added.

RELATED: Weak clinical data force Sanofi, GSK to delay COVID-19 vaccine

The news comes after Sanofi’s December disclosure that lackluster phase 1/2 data had forced the company and its adjuvant partner, GlaxoSmithKline, to delay their COVID-19 vaccine development. With the setback, the company pushed its anticipated launch to late 2021 rather than the middle of 2021 as originally expected.

Now, the partners are gearing up for a phase 2b study set to begin next month; investigators anticipate including a comparison against an existing authorized vaccine in the trial, according to Sanofi’s website. Earlier in the pandemic, the company teamed up with GSK to utilize that vaccine rival's adjuvant technology.

Aside from Sanofi’s GSK-partnered vaccine, the company has an mRNA vaccine in the pipeline through its partnership with Translate Bio. That vaccine has shown early promise in preclinical trials.

RELATED: COVID-19 mRNA vaccine candidate from Sanofi and Translate protects mice, monkeys: study

The Sanofi tie-up comes as mRNA partners Pfizer and BioNTech work to scale up production to 2 billion global doses in 2021. Amid that push, the companies temporarily reduced shipments to Europe this month, causing some countries to push back at the move. Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has suffered a manufacturing issue that will force it to reduce first-quarter deliveries to Europe.